Experience should be a key factor for the men’s cross country team this fall. Leading the way is Irishman Enda Grandfield, a junior and NCAA Championship qualifier from a year ago.
But three Kentuckians, juniors David Altmaier and Chris Young, and sophomore Daniel Roberts will also contribute to the team’s scoring.
“That tends to eb and flow,” head coach Curtiss Long says of the homegrown presence of in-state talent on the squad.
Long also hopes to add strength to the team with some capable walk-ons.
“The last two years, we have an unusually high number of walk-ons,” Long said. “If you’re going to compete in the conference, you have to have athletes that are talented but receiving little or no money.”
Walk-ons Nick Bacon and Ryan Howell redshirted their rookie cross country seasons last fall but were able to contribute to the track team in the spring. Long is looking for their help this fall.
“We’re going to have 20 on the men’s side who are training and practicing with cross country,” Long said. “With those types of numbers, you solidify your progression.”
Better than numbers, the team also returns experience, with all of last season’s point scorers back this fall. They’ll look to improve on a third place finish in the Sun Belt Conference last year.
SUBHED: Lady Topper runners
The women’s team will have to overcome losses if they want to contend for the Sun Belt crown. Senior Terri Hennessy ran out of eligibility, while Jill Shannon left school to return to her native Ireland.
“There was nothing sinister about (Shannon) not coming back,” Long explains. “It was a university transfer, and we really did not have her academic major.”
Shannon will be enrolling in optometry school in Ireland, something she could not do here until after completing undergraduate studies.
Another loss for the team, at least for this season, is sophomore Rachel Sanford. Sanford is battling compartment syndrome, a condition that restricts muscle growth, which Long hopes will heal by outdoor track season.
Although the women’s team will not enter the season as Sun Belt favorites, Long believes a title is not out of the question for a Lady Topper team that finished second last year in the conference.
Despite their losses, the women still expect to be strong in the first four scoring positions. A key will be finding depth beyond that.
If they can win, Long said, “We’ll do it from the point of being a little better up front, and then we have to find somebody who can be a No. 5.”
Both teams kick off the season at Belmont on September 7.
BEGINITAL Herald reporter Adam Eadens can be reached at [email protected]